The School of Experience
World’s Congress of Representative Women
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
May 19, 1893
The sweetest words man ever knew.17
The school of life, in which we are all pupils, is a grand, a glorious institution. Of divine conception, it is perfect in organization, widespread and far-reaching in its operations, incomprehensible in its results. It extends back to man’s pre-existence and reaches forward to the vast eternities to come.18
When we take up the study of nature and become somewhat acquainted with its beauties, its harmony, its grandeur and perfection, our minds expand, and we can but think of the Creator, the Organizer, the Power that controls so much life and intelligence; and almost unconsciously a feeling of reverence for that unseen Power, that great Intelligence, takes possession of our hearts, and the questions naturally arise in our minds: By what power were all these things brought into existence?19 Who planned and controls such a perfect system, and what is the object of its creation? This spirit of inquiry as to the why and wherefore of our earthly existence is the first step in theology; for pure and undefiled religion is the true science of life.20 According to the views of the so-called Mormon people, this earth is only one department of a great system of education which has been devised by our Heavenly Father for the cultivation and development of his children. The sacred scriptures—the Holy Bible—teach that all things were created first spiritual, then temporal, and man is no exception to the rule.21 The primary department, or first grade, in this school of life was the spirit world, where the sons and daughters of God passed through a spiritual probation to enable them to gain the intelligence and experience necessary to prepare them for a future state of existence—in other words, to enable them to enter the preparatory department in the school of experience.22 According to their diligence and faithfulness in the first department is their position or status in this the second or earthly probation. Time will not admit of our entering into the details of this organization; suffice it to say, that in the wisdom of God man has been placed in charge of this department; but to woman has been given the power, the honor to open the door through which all must pass ere they can enter that advanced stage of action and go forward in the work of progression which has been designed and marked out by our Heavenly Parents.23 I say parents, because while we hear a great deal about our Heavenly Father, and very little, if anything, about our Heavenly Mother, reason and revelation both teach us that we must also have a Mother there.24 This is true, pure motherhood—to give temporal bodies to heavenly spirits, that the spiritual and temporal may be united and continue on in the work of perfection.
I would ask this intelligent audience, is this a menial labor? Is there a greater or nobler work, or one that is more important and beneficial to the human family than that of motherhood? It is of equal importance to the high and the low, the rich and the poor. A man can never reach such a height of perfection, such a pinnacle of greatness that he can deny that he owes the possibility of his success to a woman—his mother. It is for this reason we impress upon our girls the necessity of preparing themselves to become pure, strong, intelligent wives and mothers, that their children may begin life upon this earth with fair prospects: strong, healthful bodies; bright, active minds; free from inherited disease and vice. And in order that this may be accomplished perfectly, it is woman’s right—nay, more, it is her duty—to demand from the husband and father the same purity of life and character that she herself maintains and that he demands from her. For a man is under as great condemnation in the sight of God for unchastity and an unholy life as is woman. Else woman must be the superior power, the greater intelligence, if more is expected and required from her than from her brother man.25
Nor is this all of woman’s work. For reasons best known to our Heavenly Father, the intelligence gained in our previous existence is for the time being taken from us, and we come upon the earth pure, innocent, helpless babes. Upon mothers has been placed the responsibility of nurturing and training these tender plants. It is during the period of childhood that the most lasting impressions are made upon the mind. Let us have educated, refined, common-sense mothers, and the home, society, the nation, and the world will reap the benefits. I once heard a prominent Utah man remark that if he could only educate a part of his family he would certainly educate his daughters rather than his sons. He realized woman’s power and influence, especially when she becomes a mother, over present as well as future generations.26
Oh, if mothers would thoroughly understand, fully appreciate, and wisely use their God-given power, there would be no greater truism than the old adage, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”27
When women entertain the idea [of] a wife and mother [as was] advanced to me, that when she married she gave up her own individuality, she felt she had no mind nor will independent of her husband’s, can we wonder that their children grow up with the idea that father and mother are one, and that one is the father? It has always roused an indignant feeling within me to hear a woman say in answer to her child’s question, “Oh, I don’t know anything about such things; go and ask your father.” Every time she makes a remark of that nature the mother loses influence and the father gains it.
Let woman prepare herself to stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder with her husband in all the affairs of life, to be a wise counselor and helpmeet unto him, as her Creator designed she should be;28 let mothers impress upon their children the principles of justice and equal rights, and the women of the next generation will not have to beg and plead for what rightfully belongs to them.
Why is it that today there is so much broader a view taken of woman’s position than before? Because woman herself is beginning to feel that she is an intelligent, responsible being, with a mind capable of the highest intelligence, with talents that it is her duty to develop and use for the advancement and elevation of the human family. This feeling is gradually but steadily growing; it is being felt throughout the world, and it will continue to grow until it becomes a power in the earth.
All honor to the noble women of this Congress, who have stood firm in the face of severe opposition, bitter scorn ofttimes, and dared to maintain their convictions of truth and right. May their number increase, and their influence be felt until it reaches every nook and corner of the habitable globe.29